With a nod to the ILIAD’s catalog of Greek ships, channeling a multitude of characters, more than one hundred, with multiple timelines, Haas’s Performance begins with a catalog of nicknames of the Procidano fishermen:
A Fisherman's Oratorio
A FISHERMAN’S ORATORIO, features the artist, suspended in a fishing net above water, which he is premiering at his retrospective in Amersfoort, above the canal outside the Museum Flehite.
For the past few years, Philip Haas has lived on the island of Procida in the Bay of Naples. The Performance is a result of going out to sea with the island fishermen.
In the sea’s depths, I saw sinewy, diminutive Genaro, the octopus fisherman, called
“Eros,“ because of his lofty amatory powers.
Next, the waddling behemoth, Procolo, the fish-market porter, jokingly nicknamed, “pants-pissing wimp,“ whose monumental underwear, once mistaken for bed sheets hanging on the line to dry outside his mother’s house, billow in the deep.
Then, the tubular fishmonger, Ciro, tagged “scabbardfish,” after that eel-like creature.
And the pensioned fisherman bricklayer, Franco, “patch on the ass,” a soubriquet inherited from his impoverished ancestors.
And single-toothed Gaetano, named, “easy-going fatty;” at eighty-nine, still mending nets, still jolly, now slimmer.
And his son, Giovanni, the wandering fishmonger, trading from the back of a banged-up van, who embodies, physically and temperamentally, the appellation of his father.
And Gaetano’s eldest son, Hercules “the blow fish,” on account of his piscine visage, both captain and crew of a one-man fishing vessel.
Then, the harbor-side angler, Luigi, “Tarzan,” wild in his youth.
Next, Captain Antonio, “the crazy,” who ventures out to sea in raging storms.
And one of Antonio’s faithful crew, Vincenzo, “the tooth pick,” reed thin as a boy, but barrel-chested in middle age, with a pirate’s swagger and a sleepy eye.
And Vitale, “the Chinese,” because of shape of his eyes, the loudest screamer and the wildest gesticulator in the market, ten years in prison, done in by police cameras, revealing him collecting trays of produce from the fishermen to give, without payment, to the Camorra.
And Mario “Mamec”, a child’s garbling of his given name, the older brother of “the Chinese,” with the gaze of a renaissance cardinal, working as a fisherman on crazy Antonio’s boat.
Then, Nicola, a captain, too; self-anointed rival of Antonio, called, “the circle,” said to have been a backwards child who was unable to draw a circle by tracing the outline from the bottom of a glass.
And, here, the only woman on the island who ventures out to sea, Maria, “the fisherwoman.”
There, her elderly companion, Francisco, “the damned,” a family name, or Francisco, “the hunchback,” for the curvature of his spine.
Next, the invalided-out swordfish piscator Salvatore “one leg missing,” and his wingman Carmine, tagged “mouse,” after the rodent.
And the-long dead itinerant fishmonger, Francisco, nicknamed “hand missing,” after his withered appendage, a result of a fall from an orange tree as a boy during the War, surprised by the owner, who caught him stealing fruit (the youth was hungry), the fracture never attended to; as an adult, he sold fish from a push cart, surreptitiously using a shrunken finger to add weight to the scale, increasing the price.
And Captain Michele “Makizzan,” son of Captain Cesarino, also “Makizzan,” another soubriquet of unknown origin.
Then, Ciro, nicknamed “little chicken,” legendary island drunk, failed fisherman, gentle soul, Latin scholar, nunnery porter, priest’s son; not long dead, his body transformed into a cockerel inhabiting the island cemetery, overlooking the sea, referred to as “down by Riccio's;” years ago, there was a local priest by the name of Riccio, his family lived near the graveyard, now he’s buried there.
And the strutting, heavily-tattooed gravedigger, Napoleone, aptly surnamed Terzo, nicknamed “death eruption,” owing to the organs of a cadaver exploding if left unattended for long.
And the restauranteur Vincenzo, at 62, still called “little boy” by his four older sisters.
And his broad-shouldered fiancé, the establishment’s cook, Giovanna “the assassin,” on account of the lethal home-grown red peppers seasoning her dishes.
And Vincenzo’s nephew Vincenzo, “the sheriff,” policeman by day, pizza maker by night.
Next, Don Michele, island priest, called “speedo” behind his back, wearing a form-fitting bathing costume underneath his vestments, dining al fresco on sea snails, while bathing.
And the tippling pastor Giacinto, “on the house,” on account of dining and imbibing gratis at Vincenzo “little boy’s” restaurant, before delivering the weekend sermon; heading to the beach, Father “on the house” holding forth on what he deems most important, Jesus Christ, himself and swimming.
Then, Rino “from Pozzuoli,” who came to the island a lifetime ago, retired bricklayer, newly dead at 82; with a twinkle in his eye, said of his friend “little chicken’s” ecclesiastical parentage, “Back then we were all the children of priests.”
And muscled, bare-chested Nicola “the thief,” originally from Naples, spending thirty-two years in and out of the island’s now-abandoned prison, as evidenced by his jailhouse tattoos; after several incarcerations, he found Procida much to his liking, deciding to make it his home; gentleman bandit, always unarmed, Nicola specialized in robbing churches, once removing an entire nativity fresco from the transept; retired, he collects a modest pension from the state.
And Antonio, middle-aged attorney, privately-published novelist, self-professed Flaubert of Procida, a municipal counselor, who resigned from his position overseeing grievances and waterworks, after having been arrested on charges of extortion, accused of demanding €20,000 from an elderly businessman for turning a blind eye to illegal building work, the word along the waterfront is that he was framed; previously Antonio‘s nickname was “the nose,” on account of his prominent proboscis; now it is the “Count of Avalos,” Avalos being the name of the former island prison.
And Vincenzo, “the satyr,” because of the uncanny resemblance, a Dionysian sailor and fruit seller, with a laugh like a horse’s whinny.
And the one-eyed Cat, tautologically nicknamed “cat,” who lost his orb in a nocturnal encounter with another feline, and self healed.
Next, sailor Salvatore, called “Nero,” an arsonist like the eponymous emperor; as a boy, he set a chicken coop alight, singing the wings of the birds, but not immolating them.
Then, a mama’s boy, chief engineer on cruise ships nicknamed “Cocco Bill”, on account of resembling the eponymous comic book character, buys a house for himself, but his mother forbids him to move in, because he is still a bachelor; escaping her clutches with frequent visits to Eastern Europe, where he dates women, whose virtue might best be described as easy.
And Melino “the cockroach,” inherited matronymically; mamma’s first name is Melina, and Michele answers to Melino.
And Maria “Tomcat,” a large woman of indeterminate age with masculine features, working in the town hall.
And Antonio, nicknamed “I arrange things,”unemployed, but paid as an arranger, a fixer, and his wife Giuseppina, “the whale.”
And Domenico “the smiler” with a grin fixed from childhood, now locked into rigor mortis.
Then, Ciro, “lawyer of lost causes,” born of a well-heeled family, who studied jurisprudence at university; subsequently, he squandered his entire inheritance gambling, all on ponies, now living in a single room, without running water.
Next, Antonio, “out out,” as in “out to lunch,” genial creature, though profoundly unbalanced, not long dead, fondly remembered and known to all because he wandered Procida aimlessly; as a young man, he was disappointed in love, which unnerved him deeply, his family had him carted off to an asylum on the mainland; when he was deemed stable, his relations welcomed him back to the island, helped, it was said, by returning with a stipend from the government.
And Angelo “pagliozz,” a family nickname with no attributable source, peddling vegetables from his donkey, shouting at daybreak, waking island denizens, “potatoes, potatoes to make your legs strong!”
And Franca, cousin of Angelo, also a “pagliozz,” restaurant cook, who can make the historical soup called “Escaped Fish“ or “Fish That Swam Away,” prepared with boiling water, cherry tomatoes, parsley, garlic & olive oil — a fish soup without fish — ingredients for 6 persons: 5 San Marzano (plum) tomatoes; 2 cups of water; slightly stale crostini (toasts); garlic, salt, olive oil; fry the sliced tomatoes with with olive oil and whole garlic in a pan for about five minutes; add salt and water, boil, and pour over the crostini.
Then, Franco, master baker, “the Roman,” on account of his ancestry, celebrated for his gattò, derived from the French “gateau,” a potato cake, ingredients for eight: potatoes, mortadella, provolone cheese, butter, milk and bread crumbs.
And Michele “little butcher,” son of Michele “little butcher,” grandson of Michele “big butcher”.
And the bespectacled grocery store owner, Franco, and his beloved employee, Raffaele, their collective nickname, “door half open,” because of the shop never closing, even on Christmas Day, when the entrance door is half open.
And Salvatore “billy goat” and his sister Angelina, unmarried adult siblings, lived together; the much-loved, walled-in van belonged to “billy goat;” when he died, Angelina turned the vehicle into his memorial.
Next, the retired sailor Vincenzo “the American,” a moniker from childhood; no one knows, including Vincenzo, where it originated, for he has no connection to America.
Then, the skeletally-thin middle-aged ne’er-do-well, “dead kitty;” maybe, he inherited the nickname from his father or, as a boy, his voice sounded like the meow of a dead kitten, some say it still does, not widely known, a recluse, rarely in public, but, when seen, always pushing, definitely not riding, a battered bicycle; his companion is grotesquely fat; she has her own unusual nickname, “new monster;” she smokes in the manner of a French New Wave movie star, leaning back, inhaling deeply with immense pleasure, blowing interlocking smoke rings.
And, Michele “the German,” because of the color of his hair, who’s father, also Michele “the German,” resided off a set of descending stairs, referred to as the 36 chamber pots; in the days before indoor plumbing, not so long ago, 36 families lived along the stairs in 36 one or two-room quarters, emptying their chamber pots every night into the sea below.
Lastly, the small square commemorating the Schiffer Brothers, “victims of the racial laws;” Giuseppe and Alessandro Schiffer, Hungarian-born Italian Jews, who moved to Procida in the mid-1930s to oversee the island’s electricity company; on the 10th of June, 1940, Mussolini announced on the radio Italy was declaring war on France and England; half the population gathered in the main square to listen to the broadcast; in the middle of his speech — “Italiani, in questo momento” — il Duce’s voice was cut off; the radio stopped playing because the electricity had failed; an angry crowd rushed over to the power plant and decided the brothers were the culprits; a few days later, a decree of expulsion from the island and imprisonment on the mainland arrived for the Schiffers; Giuseppe managed to escape, Alessandro was sent to Auschwitz, where he perished.